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Lockstep and Dance

Lockstep and Dance: Images of Black Men in Popular Culture

Linda G. Tucker
Copyright Date: 2007
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    Lockstep and Dance
    Book Description:

    Lockstep and Dance: Images of Black Men in Popular Cultureexamines popular culture's reliance on long-standing stereotypes of black men as animalistic, hypersexual, dangerous criminals, whose bodies, dress, actions, attitudes, and language both repel and attract white audiences. Author Linda G. Tucker studies this trope in the images of well-known African American men in four cultural venues: contemporary literature, black-focused films, sports commentary, and rap music.

    Through rigorous analysis, the book argues that American popular culture's representations of black men preserve racial hierarchies that imprison blacks both intellectually and physically. Of equal importance are the ways in which black men battle against, respond to, and become implicated in the production and circulation of these images.

    Tucker cites examples ranging from Michael Jordan's underwear commercials and the popularBarbershopmovies, to the career of rapper Tupac Shakur and John Edgar Wideman's memoirBrothers and Keepers.Lockstep and Dancetracks the continuity between historical images of African American men, the peculiar constitution of whites' anxieties about black men, and black men's tolerance of and resistance to the reproduction of such images. The legacy of these stereotypes is still apparent in contemporary advertising, film, music, and professional basketball. Lockstep and Dance argues persuasively that these cultural images reinforce the idea of black men as prisoners of American justice and of their own minds but also shows how black men struggle against this imprisonment.

    Linda G. Tucker is an assistant professor of English at Southern Arkansas University. Her work has appeared inHenry Street,American Behavioral Scientist, andTransformations.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-151-4
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
    (pp. IX-2)
    (pp. 3-17)

    Scholars of African American literature and culture frequently quote the poignant lines with which W. E. B. Du Bois opens the second chapter ofThe Souls of Black Folk: “The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the colorline,—the relation of the darker to the lighter races of men in Asia and Africa, in America and the islands of the sea” (16). The frequency with which African Americanists have employed and continue to employ Du Bois’s words to capture the importance of race suggests that the problem of the color line continues to shape the social, cultural,...

  5. 1 WRITING HOME Whiteness, Blackness, and the Showdown in the Big House
    (pp. 18-43)

    Black men function within a prison writ large structured by various technologies of containment ranging from actual prisons to representational practices. Black men are subject to techniques of containment that criminalize their images and render them silent and, depending on the context, either threatening or comic, hypervisible or invisible. Despite their heterogeneity and pervasive presence, however, such technologies do not function absolutely, as they are constantly subjected to equally heterogeneous and pervasive responses, reversals, and forms of resistance enacted by black men. A clearer view of the systems of containment that shape the prison writ large becomes possible when we...

  6. 2 THE LEGACY OF TYPE Minstrelsy, Lynching, and White Lore Cycles
    (pp. 44-77)

    Phillip Brian Harper, inAre We Not Men?: Masculine Anxiety and the Problem of African-American Identity(1998), states that it is not novel for a cultural studies critic to focus on the relationship between representation and reality. However, Harper rightly argues, “we cannot hope … to construct an effective critique of the racial politics of popular culture until this rather elementary proposition is more fully elaborated to account for some of the specificwaysthat such conditioning occurs” (154).Lockstep and Danceundertakes such an accounting as it traces the genealogies of contemporary representations of black men in popular culture...

  7. 3 COURT GESTURES Cultural Gerrymandering and the Games That Black Men Play
    (pp. 78-98)

    The white lore cycle centered on the hybrid figure of the black male as brute/comic continued to turn throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty-first. The figure circulates within contexts that are inscribed with both the subtleties of the minstrel show and the violence of lynching rituals. In particular, white lore about black men remains operative and visible through representations within and around the realm of professional basketball. It informs the racialized, masculine games (both literal and figural) that continue to be played out on the professional basketball court and through media representations of black male athletes. Clyde Taylor...

  8. 4 THE LAST BLACKFACE? Forays into Film’s Empty Space of Representation
    (pp. 99-126)

    Charles Johnson and John McCuskery, in their introduction toBlack Men Speaking(1997), caution us not to get so caught up in studying criminological and sociological statistics about black men that we forget that the numbers are actually real people with stories that need to be told and heard. To discover such stories, they propose that we concern ourselves with the ways that black men develop and sustain a sense of self in relation to the black community generally, other black men specifically, and white America. The discovery and in some cases recovery of such narratives are complicated by the...

  9. 5 “HOLLER IF YA HEAR ME” Black Men, (Bad) Rap(s), and the Return of the Black Brute
    (pp. 127-159)

    We have seen how the association between criminality and black masculinity is the legacy of historically consistent efforts to control and manipulate images of black men. The persistent and pervasive presence of this association in popular culture furthers the exploitation and distortion of images of black men that each turn of the white lore cycle carries forward. Black men’s containment within the prison writ large is reinforced not only by the presence of stereotypical images but also by the absence of images that represent them as heterogeneous, complex human beings. As we saw in chapter 2, the advertising industry capitalizes...

    (pp. 160-165)

    Throughout this book, I have argued that for black men the United States functions as a prison writ large. I have discussed the nature and function of particular forms of containment to which black men are subject by focusing on figures, both real and fictional, whose containment arises from the hypervisibility and/or invisibility, silence, and violence wrought by hegemonic representations of black men. I have approached the figures as enigmatic texts that demand to be recognized and to be read on their own terms. I have attempted to give these texts room to speak by hearing what they have to...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 166-174)
    (pp. 175-183)
    (pp. 184-184)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 185-191)